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Exclusive Interview with MICHAEL TOW Whose Talent Shines on Apple TV+’s ‘City On Fire’

Photo credit: Peter Mellekas

Michael’s passion for acting began at a young age, and he found community through both acting and sports. He had an eighth-grade teacher who encouraged him to pursue his passion for the arts. Along with his successful career in finance and his marriage that gave him three daughters, Michael always clung onto his love for performing. As he ventured into the industry, he always set an example for his girls that all obstacles could be overcome with passion and grit. As a devoted advocate for Asian American rights and causes he has always sought to be a figure on screen that he did not see much of growing up.  

He pursued his love of acting by doing extra work on local projects and taking acting classes. His first taste of the grandiose filmmaking process was his background work alongside fellow Bostonian Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” He eventually joined the Boston theater company, Company One (whose board he sits on to this day), and participated in many productions before venturing into the New York scene.

Michael’s breakout role was in the Oscar-winning film “The Sound of Metal” in 2018. Shortly after, he landed a role in Max Winkler’s feature “Jungleland,” followed by a lead role in “Lucky Grandma.”  The loss of his daughter heavily factored into subsequent roles as he channeled his grief and love for his daughter fully and wholeheartedly into his work. He continues to break stereotypes placed on AAPI performers within the industry and is committed to telling stories that resonate with diverse communities.

Tow can also be seen currently alongside Keira Knightley in the historical crime drama “Boston Strangler,” currently streaming on Hulu. Tow will also be in the Taylor Sheridan’s “Lioness” opposite Zoe Saldana & Nicole Kidman and Starz series “Raising Kanan“. Right now though Tow shines in the popular Apple series ‘City On Fire’, from creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. It is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

Hi Michael, welcome to OLC! You star in Apple TV’s much anticipated mystery/thriller series “City on Fire. What excited you about this project?

Finding out that City on Fire was being produced by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s Fake Empire. They created Gossip Girl, Chuck, The OC, and many other iconic shows. So understandably I was ecstatic when I found out I was cast and would be able to work with them. 

You play the role of Joe Yeung. Can you tell us about the character and your experience playing Joe? 

Joe is a down-and-out single father who’s never gotten over his wife leaving him and the failing of his career as a maker of fireworks. The only thing that keeps him going is his love for his daughter Sammy played by Chase Sui Wonders. We first see Joe in the hospital after his daughter is shot and in a coma. So it was a very emotionally draining role. The audience has to feel from Joe the utter devastation that a parent goes through in this situation balanced by the love he has for his daughter and needing to keep the hope alive that she will survive. Unfortunately a month after the wrap of City on Fire, in real life I would experience almost exactly scene by scene what happened to Joe Yeung by the unexpected passing of my 19-year-old daughter Alana.

If you don’t mind sharing, could you tell us about this and how this loss has shaped your acting?

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After my daughter’s death in September, there have been 4 high-profile projects that I am a part of that all connect directly to my daughter. Uncannily, many of them are roles that deal with Father/child loss. While it can be emotionally triggering while acting in those scenes it actually is very cathartic to me as I feel these roles starting with City on Fire connect me spiritually to Alana. These roles this last year have been my biggest in my career to date and are truly believe they are gifts from my daughter. So while I have always taken my acting jobs seriously, It has gone to another level of preparation, and feel that I have been embodying these characters and these opportunities to a degree that I have never done before. While bittersweet, I believe my work has never been stronger and I thank my daughter for this.

You’ve also recently worked on “Boston Strangler” Taylor Sheridan’s “Lioness” and the Starz series “Raising Kanan.” What was your experience like on those projects?

In Boston Strangler, I got to work with fantastic director Matt Ruskin and play a real person from the ’60s. There was a small but strong Asian American population in Boston during this time but it is rarely seen on TV and Film and I thank Matt for breaking that mold. I can’t say too much about Lioness or Raising Kanan yet, but in Lioness I got to work with 3 superstars, Zoe Saldana, Nicole Kidman, and Dave Anabelle, all who couldn’t have been nicer, and in Raising Kanan I’m very excited as I get to break new ground in terms of portrayals of Asian American on screen.

You worked on one of my favourite films in recent memory, Sound of Metal. How do you reflect on that project?

During filming, I could feel the strong passion that Darius Marder and Riz Ahmed had for making Sound of Metal but I never thought it would be as successful as it was. It was also the first time in a dramatic film that I was given the freedom by Darius to improv my scene with Riz and was given the full trust to explore what felt natural in the situation. 

You have such an inspiring story. What do you hope others take away from your journey?

I hope people take away that the making of Art in all different forms is not just a business or a product but can actually be very spiritual and healing for the audience and the artist. Also from someone who started as an actor in his 30s that it is never too late to embrace and go for what you are passionate about.

What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?

I love many of the roles that I have played but I still want to push the boundaries of my craft by playing different types of characters and roles that are rich and layered while always challenging stereotypes. 

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Socials: @neillfrazer

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